Amy Levy and the accents of minor(ity) poetry
“Nothing, ” he said presently, “can alter the relations of things – their permanent, essential relations… 'They shall know, they shall understand, they shall feel what I am. ' That is what I used to say to myself in the old days. I suppose, now, 'they' do know, more or less, and what of that?” (Amy Levy, “Cohen of Trinity”) 1
Song nor sonnet for you I've penned, Nor passionate paced by your home's wide wall; I have brought you never a flow'r, my friend, Never a tear for your sake let fall.
And yet – and yet – ah, who understands? We men and women are complex things! A hundred tunes Fate's inexorable hands May play on the sensitive soul-strings.
Webs of strange patterns we weave (each owns) From colour and sound; and like unto these, Soul has its tones and its semitones, Mind has its major and minor keys.
(Amy Levy, “In a Minor Key, ” lines 29–40) 2
Amy Levy(1861–89) was, up until the early 1990s, almost a “lost” figure in British literary history. Today, she is gaining an increasing amount of critical attention, both for her fiction and her poetry. The reasons for Levy's critical resurrection are multiple; perhaps the most important event in her recent critical heritage was the 1993 publication of her selected writings, edited by Melvyn New, a volume which gave contemporary scholars access to Levy's writing from all genres, and Linda Hunt Beckman's 2000 publication of Amy Levy: Her Life and Letters. Levy's critical resurrection is also linked to the fact that so many of the issues she addresses in her writing speak to concerns of the contemporary critical moment: Jewish Diasporic identity, lesbian identity, women's emancipation, and more general theories of “otherness” within the English literary tradition. In